On a weekend potentially crucial to his hope of reclaiming the British Touring Car Championship crown Jason Plato dominated qualifying at Silverstone, scoring a bonus point for pole position as his heavily restricted title rivals toiled.
Plato dominated the session, holding the top time for almost the entire half hour, his name only missing from the top of the charts for the opening minutes while he and a majority of the front-wheel-driven men performed their normal tyre switching routine after the initial outlaps.
The style of Plato’s domination only served to rubber stamp his pole position. In total nine of the MG KX Momentum Racing team leader were faster than anyone else on the grid could manage, his constant improvements throughout the session pulling the fastest time down to 58.717 more than a quarter second better than the second best time, set by Mat Jackson.
The margin between the two – specifically 0.253 may not appear much, but with the top 19 on the 24 car grid covered by less than a second the gap between the front row men is brought into context.
More context was lent by the two Honda Yuasa Racing Team drivers, who lie ahead of Plato in the championship but struggled under the weight of their success ballast and the restrictions on the NGTC Honda Civic.
Matt Neal’s fastest time was only good enough for tenth place while teammate Gordon Shedden, who leads the championship after his Rockingham wins, could only manage 19th, the final man within a second of Plato’s best after a session which included a spell in the pits, the Team Dynamics squad looking under the Civic’s bonnet, before it ended with a spin at Brooklands on his final flying lap.
Neal too would find the limits of grid at the left hander, sliding through the corner whilst on a hot lap with seven minutes of the session remaining.
Plato’s point for pole cut his deficit to Shedden to 31 points, but with the Scot facing a tough race day and Plato in line to fight for the 20 points available for a race win the title race looks to close up on the penultimate weekend of the championship.
Jackson inherited second place after the end of the session from Dave Newsham, the Team ES Racing man one of three drivers to lose his fastest time as punishment for the ever present Silverstone infringement of exceeding track limits.
Instead of second place Newsham will start fifth, sharing the third row with free practice two leader Dan Welch, with Frank Wrathall and Rob Collard ahead on the second row.
Aron Smith, Collard’s eBay Motors teammate Tom Onslow-Cole and Adam Morgan completed the top ten with Neal.
Predictably Collard, Onslow-Cole with Nick Foster in the third BMW and the Rob Austin Racing Audi duo of Austin and Will Bratt dominated the early laps of the session.
Austin and Collard exchanged the top time, the Audi driver taking the ceremonial honour of being the first man to set a hot lap of under a minute, though that marker was soon swept aside.
Foster will start the first of tomorrow’s three races from 13th. Austin and Bratt joined Newsham on the stewards’ naughty step, their fastest times deleted dropping them to 17th and 22nd respectively.